Should Huckabee Read Karl Marx?

Ed Kilgore recommends Rich Lowry’s take on Mike Huckabee as “a useful reminder of the source of Huckabee’s core vote for those progressives who view him as some sort of economic populist. In Iowa, at least, and probably nationally, Mike Huckabee’s ‘surge’ is primarily a product of his success in remobilizing — and de-marginalizing — the Christian Right.” True enough, but I think it’s important to understand that Huckabee really is some sort of economic populist. After all, as Jonathan Chait points out:

Mike Huckabee has been scaring the bejesus out of the Republican establishment with his scorching populist invective. In one recent interview, the former Arkansas governor declared, “I am like a lot of folks who are tired of thinking the Republican Party is a wholly owned subsidiary of Wall Street.” He has denounced “immoral” CEO salaries, and warned, “People will only endure this for so many years before there is a revolt.” The terrified anti-tax Club for Growth is waging jihad against Huckabee, and Robert Novak has called him an advocate of “class struggle.”

Populism is a political style, and that right there is the populist style as applied to economics. The problem is that his policy thinking is alternately vapid, confused, naive, or insane:

At the broadest ideological level, Huckabee is a conservative, happily paying tribute to the genius of the marketplace, the need for self-reliance, and other conservative standbys.And, yet, his attachment to laissez-faire dogma is so tissue-thin that it can be blown to bits by the slightest brush with actual experience. Often this leads him in humane and intelligent directions, such as when he expanded children’s health insurance. But it can also lead him to embrace simplistic statism, such as his crude protectionism and wholesale embrace of agriculture subsidies. (“Imagine the further weakening of America if we were also dependent on foreign sources for our food needs,” he warns darkly, as if Al Qaeda will starve us into submission with a naval blockade.) […] The national sales tax is crazier, by an order of magnitude, than any other crazy idea I’ve seen at the national level. It’s so crazy that even really crazy right-wingers think it’s pretty crazy. […]So how did Huckabee come to support the fair tax? He was asked about the idea by fair-tax supporters on the campaign trail, bought the book touting it, and was persuaded. Lord help us if he gets his hands on a copy of Das Kapital.

Brilliant article, read the whole thing. To be fair to Marx, though, I’m not sure Capital really contains much in the way of policy recommendations. The Communist Manifesto’s policy platform, by contrast, contains some pretty good ideas:

  1. Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes.
  2. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax.
  3. Abolition of all right of inheritance.
  4. Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels.
  5. Centralization of credit in the hands of the State, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly.
  6. Centralization of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the State.
  7. Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the State; the bringing into cultivation of waste-lands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan.
  8. Equal liability of all to labour. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture.
  9. Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of the distinction between town and country, by a more equable distribution of the population over the country.
  10. Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children’s factory labour in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production, &c.;, &c.;

Number two and number ten are pretty much conventional wisdom these days. Point nine is essentially suburbanization, which I think has gone too far, but that certainly counts as a mainstream idea. One could construe point five as something akin to the current federal reserve system. With regard to six, our transportation system is overwhelmingly in public hands (i.e., the roads and mass-transit are government-owned, the airlines and intercity buses are not) while the communications infrastructure is privately owned by subject to much regulation. I have no idea what eight means, point four seems like a good idea but not applicable to present circumstances. Point seven seems to conflate a good idea (bring wasteland into cultivation) with a bad one (state-owned factories). Point three probably goes too far, but heavy taxation of large estates is certainly a good idea. All things considered, I think Marx’s ideas here are considerably better thought-out than Huckabees.